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Read a Section: Ukraine

Russia-Occupied Territories of Ukraine

On February 24, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and on October 5, it purported to annex four additional oblasts (regions):  Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya.  On March 3 and October 12, UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution ES-11/4 condemned Russia’s invasion and purported annexation of the four additional Ukrainian territories, respectively.  The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts by the Russian Federation and considers all of them to be part of Ukraine.  In 2014, Russia’s military forces invaded Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and the Crimean Peninsula, and Russia purported to annex Crimea.  UNGA Resolution 68/262, adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states that the referendum on annexation held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol has no validity and cannot form the basis for any alteration of their status.  Since 2014, Russia has occupied Crimea, and Russia-led proxy forces have controlled parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.

Since its invasion of Crimea and portions of Donbas in 2014, according to widespread reports, the Russian Federation and its proxies have committed widespread, ongoing, and egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion and conscience as well as physical and psychological abuse of religious minorities.  Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia’s forces intensified these practices and carried them into other occupied areas.  There were reports of widespread regional bans of minority religious groups, including evangelical Christians, Roman and Greek Catholics, and non-Ukrainian Orthodox Church communities; illegal imprisonment, physical abuse, and disappearances of religious leaders; and the deliberate destruction or seizure of religious buildings.  Sources stated it was difficult to gain a full accounting of Russia’s extensive religious rights violations given heavy censorship of media, abuses against human rights activists, and denial of access to international observers.  Religious freedom developments in Russia-occupied areas – Crimea and parts of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts – are detailed below in the section “Russia-Occupied Territories of Ukraine.”

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for “the separation of church and religious organizations from the state.” By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.

On December 1, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a decree for the Cabinet of Ministers to introduce legislation to prohibit religious organizations that are “affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation” to operate in Ukraine. The decree requires this law to be “in accordance with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience and Ukraine’s obligations in connection with joining the Council of Europe.” The President also announced sanctions against senior clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) for collaboration with Russia, stating they engaged in wartime collaboration with the invader. Although it continued to be unofficially referred to as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (or UOC-MP) through year’s end, in May, Church leaders stated it had broken with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC); a government-commissioned panel of experts, however, concluded the UOC remained connected and subordinate to the ROC. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) searched numerous UOC religious sites based on stated probable cause of collaboration, yielding what the SBU and civil society observers said was significant evidence of collaboration and other illegal acts.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report assaults on their followers that went unpunished. In February, the government declared martial law and began general mobilization of reservists. The law does not provide for alternative service during mobilization and martial law. There were some arrests for draft refusal and one case of imprisonment, according to reports, although most conscientious objectors were able to perform alternative service. The autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) said Ukrainian government officials in numerous cases continued to interfere in the decision-making process of Orthodox congregations seeking to leave the UOC by disrupting meetings, preventing registration, and intimidating active parishioners, although they reported fewer incidents by year’s end. Local authorities in Lviv allowed a local developer to complete the construction of a private medical clinic on the grounds of a historic Jewish cemetery despite an August 2020 stop-work order from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. According to observers, government investigations and prosecutions of vandalism of religious sites continued to be generally inconclusive, although the government condemned attacks and police arrested perpetrators. Representatives of religious groups continued to report problems with local authorities in allocating land to build religious structures and with national authorities regarding restitution claims. President Zelenskyy made several public statements against antisemitism, participated in Jewish cultural events, and condemned Russian attacks on Jewish sites, including its shelling of a location near the site of the 1941 Babyn Yar massacre.

According to numerous sources, Russia’s military forces committed widespread religious freedom abuses in both occupied and Ukrainian government-controlled areas, such as shelling religious institutions and cultural heritage sites and detaining clergy, including physically abusing an Orthodox priest seized from a ship in the Black Sea. Responding to a May attack on a monastery in Donetsk Oblast, President Zelenskyy stated that Russia’s forces knew there were no military targets at the monastery and that approximately 300 lay individuals, including 60 children, were sheltering there.

The ROC and the UOC continued to label the OCU a “schismatic” group and continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize it. UOC and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of their congregations. The UOC reported violent threats against some of its congregations. UOC leaders continued to accuse the OCU of seizing churches belonging to the UOC; the OCU responded that parishioners, rather than the OCU, had initiated the transfers of affiliation within the provisions of the law. Church ownership disputes between UOC and OCU members in Zadubrivka village, Chernivtsi Oblast, and some other villages and cities continued. In May, following a UOC Council meeting, the Church announced it disagreed with the position of Patriarch Kirill of the ROC supporting Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and that it took measures making the UOC “fully independent” from the Moscow Patriarchate, measures that the OCU spokesman, the government, and civil society groups said were insufficient and left the UOC still subordinate to the ROC. The independent National Minorities Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported one documented violent act of antisemitism, compared with three in 2021. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments, Holocaust memorials, synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ kingdom halls. The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and respect for religious diversity.

U.S. embassy officials, including the Ambassador, engaged with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, members of parliament, and municipal governments to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating manifestations of antisemitism. Senior U.S. officials, including the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, spoke out publicly against Russia’s attacks on religious heritage sites. Embassy officials continued to urge government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. Embassy officials also continued to encourage religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 43.5 million (mid-year 2022).  The country’s pre-war population was approximately 43.5 million, according to UN and Ukrainian State Statistical Services estimates, but an estimated 7.8 million individuals have fled following Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion.  According to the annual November national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank, 62.7 percent of respondents identify as Christian Orthodox, compared with 60.0 percent in 2021; 10.2 percent Greek Catholic (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, UGCC), compared with 8.8 percent in 2021; 3.7 percent Protestant, compared with 1.5 percent in 2021; 1.9 percent Roman Catholic, compared with 0.8 percent in 2021; 0.2 percent Muslim, the same as in 2021; and 0.1 Jewish, the same as in 2021.  The survey found another 8.7 percent identify as “simply a Christian,” compared with 8.5 percent in 2021, while 11.7 percent state they do not belong to any religious group, compared with 18.8 percent in 2021.  Small numbers of Buddhists, pagans (following traditional pre-Christian polytheistic beliefs, including animism), followers of other religions, and individuals choosing not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents.

According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.  Most Roman Catholic Church (RCC) congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytskyy, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, Zakarpattya, and Ternopil Oblasts, in the western part of the country.  According to the government’s estimate, as of January 1, most OCU congregations (formed in 2018 by the merger of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and part of the UOC) are in the central and western parts of the country, except for Zakarpattya Oblast.  Most UOC congregations are in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Odesa Oblasts; some also appear in the central and western parts of the country, excluding Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil Oblasts.  Public polling shows 39-54 percent of the population identifies with the OCU and 3-5 percent with the UOC, with the remainder not identifying specifically with either group.

The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community.  Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, Methodists, Presbyterians, members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000, while some Muslim leaders estimate two million.  ccording to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country.  According to VAAD, prior to the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine in 2014, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts).  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s purported annexation in 2014.

There are also small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including worship. By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order [or] the health and morality of the population or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.” The constitution provides for the “separation of church and religious organizations from the state” and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”

The criminal code determines punishment, in the form of a fine or imprisonment, for “willful actions inciting national, racial, or religious enmity and hatred, humiliation of national honor and dignity, or the insult of citizens’ feelings with respect to their religious convictions, and also any direct or indirect restriction of rights, or granting direct or indirect privileges to citizens based on race, color of skin, political, religious and other convictions, disability, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, [or] linguistic or other characteristics.”

By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.” The law on the condemnation of the Communist and Nazi regimes establishes punishment for public denial of the criminal nature of those regimes, dissemination of information aimed at justifying their criminal nature, and the production and/or dissemination and public use of products containing their symbols.

The law requires the government to investigate crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed by the Communist and Nazi regimes, and to identify and preserve mass graves of their victims, research and publish information about repression, mass and individual murder, deaths, deportation, torture, use of forced labor and other forms of mass physical terror, and persecution based on “ethnic, national, religious, political, class, social, and other factors.” The law also requires the government to raise public awareness of Communist and Nazi-era crimes and to support nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducting research and education in that area.

A law passed in 2021 defines the concept of antisemitism and reaffirms punishment for crimes motivated by antisemitism. The law also reaffirms punishment for making false or stereotypical statements about persons of Jewish origin, producing, or disseminating materials containing antisemitic statements or content, and denying the facts of the persecution and mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust. The state may charge those found guilty of violating the law with civil, administrative, and criminal liability. Victims may also receive compensation for “material and moral damages.” Parliament’s passage of legislation implementing the law was pending at year’s end. In February, parliament passed legislation increasing penalties for incitement to antisemitic acts, with prison sentences of five to eight years.

Religious organizations include religious congregations, administrations and centers, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and associations consisting of those religious organizations. Religious associations are represented by their centers (administrations). To register and obtain legal-entity status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, which until December 20 was the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization. Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, brotherhoods, missions, and schools register with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.

Congregations register with the oblast authorities where they are present. While these congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity. The constituent units instead register individually and obtain legal-entity status.

The law directs regional governments’ religious affairs departments to handle dual registration. The law required all religious organizations to update and reregister their statutes by January 31, 2020. The law also specifies reregistration requirements for organizations that wish to change their affiliation, particularly UOC parishes seeking to join the OCU. The law requires a quorum, as defined by each congregation and usually comprising two-thirds or three-fourths of a religious organization’s members, to decide on a change of affiliation. The law also requires a vote by two-thirds of those present to authorize such a decision. The law bans any transfer of an organization’s property until the affiliation change is finalized.

To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must comprise at least 10 adult members and submit to the registration authorities its statute (charter), certified copies of the resolution that created it and was adopted by founding members, and a document confirming its right to own or use premises.

Registered religious organizations, which include individual religious congregations, administrative offices, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods and sisterhoods, missions, and religious associations, must register with tax authorities to acquire nonprofit status, which many do for banking purposes.

Without legal-entity status, a religious organization may not own property, conduct banking activities, be eligible for utility bill discounts, join civic or advisory boards of government agencies, or establish periodicals, nongovernmental pension funds, officially accredited schools, publishing, agricultural and other companies, or companies manufacturing religious items. Religious organizations without legal-entity status may meet and worship and may also publish and distribute religious materials. In accordance with the stipulation against national registration, however, only a registered constituent unit of a nationwide religious association may own property or conduct business activities, either for itself or on behalf of the nationwide association. The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.

The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units. The law prohibits UOC priests from serving as chaplains on bases or in conflict zones.

A law on military chaplaincy defines selection criteria for clergy to become chaplains, their status in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the Armed Forces, National Guard, State Border Guard Service, and other military formations. The legislation institutionalizes military chaplaincy according to NATO principles, gives chaplains the status of full-fledged service members, and provides for the same type of financial and social security support as other service members. The law protects the confidentiality of confession to a military chaplain and provides for the creation of interfaith councils on military chaplaincy as advisory bodies at the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal Affairs.

According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event. According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.

Government regulations on identity documents, including passports, allow religious head coverings in photographs.

The law allows religious organizations to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers as well as to seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum. The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.

Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”

Only registered religious organizations may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the former Communist regime. Religious organizations must apply to regional authorities for property restitution. The law states authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.

The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.” Public schools include “ethics of faith” or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curricula. The law provides that Christian, Islamic, and Jewish-focused curriculums may offer ethics of faith courses in public schools.

The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including for discrimination based on religion. The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying draft legislation to conduct screening in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does. Religious organizations may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.

The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors. The law also allows government officials to deny a conscript’s application for alternative service due to missing the application deadline. The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization. The law allows no exemption from military reserve service during the “special period” (i.e., while hostilities with Russia’s forces continue), even for conscientious objectors. A 1999 Cabinet of Ministers resolution listed 10 religious groups whose system of beliefs “does not permit the use of weapons.” The document stipulates that only the men affiliated with those 10 groups are eligible for the alternative service: Reformist Adventists; Seventh-day Adventists; Evangelical Christians; Evangelical Christians-Baptists; the Slavic Church of the Holy Ghost (“The Penitents”); Jehovah’s Witnesses; Charismatic Christian Churches and associated churches under their registered statutes; Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith – Pentecostals and associated churches under their registered statutes; Christians of Evangelical Faith; and the Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (“Ombudsperson”) is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament containing a section on religious freedom.

The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious groups. By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the registered religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization. Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR regarding the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom. Since the introduction of martial law on February 24, 2022, following Russia’s full-scale invasion, the government has exercised the right of derogation from obligations under various articles of the ICCPR. Among its provisions, martial law converted regional and local governments to regional military administrations, imposed a ban on military-aged men leaving the country, and strengthened governmental powers of search and seizure; however, Article 18, which protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, remains fully in force.

Government Practices

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to call on the government to implement four 2020 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions to ensure effective investigation of the hate crimes committed against the group and its places of worship between 2009-2013 and to prosecute the perpetrators of those religiously motivated attacks. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the government took no specific measures to implement ECHR judgments in the cases Zagubnya and Tabachkova v. Ukraine, Migoryanu and Others v. Ukraine, Kornilova v. Ukraine, and Tretiak v. Ukraine

Some Jewish leaders and human rights activists continued to state concerns regarding what they considered impunity for hate crimes, including acts of antisemitism, and regarding the government’s long delays in completing investigations of these crimes. They also objected to authorities’ prosecuting many antisemitic acts as “hooliganism” rather than as hate crimes. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the lack of proper punishment for hate crimes “has long been a major problem, exacerbated by Article 161 of the criminal code [on incitement to enmity, religious, racial and other discrimination, etc.], which is notoriously difficult to prove and therefore most often avoided by the police and prosecutors.” Some Jewish leaders said law enforcement authorities often charged antisemitic actors, if apprehended, with hooliganism or vandalism instead of a hate crime in what they assessed was an attempt to downplay the criminal behavior. According to Freedom House, “Qualified professional legal assessment of hate crimes remains a serious problem: a motive either being ignored immediately with the crime qualified under other articles of the criminal code, or it is ‘lost’ at the stage of judicial inquiry.” Because it was harder to prove intent in hate crimes, some prosecutors reportedly chose to charge suspects with hooliganism instead.

In a February 9 statement, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern regarding conscientious objectors being delivered to military assembly points against their will and conscripts being subjected to arbitrary detention. It also expressed concern regarding “the lack of information on investigations into such cases and on the prosecution of those responsible.” The committee stressed that “alternatives to military service should be available to all conscientious objectors without discrimination as to the nature of their beliefs justifying the objection (be they religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience) and should be neither punitive nor discriminatory in nature or duration by comparison with military service.”

According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, on August 21, the Defense Ministry told the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement that during martial law, the right to do alternative civilian service had been suspended. Legal sources noted that the law does not provide for alternative nonmilitary service during the martial law and mobilization.

According to Forum 18, in June, the Ivano-Frankivsk military enlistment office summoned Vitaliy Alekseyenko for mobilization. He reportedly had a valid, government-issued certificate confirming that he had not served in the military in the 1990s in Uzbekistan, where he then lived, on grounds of conscience. Alekseyenko, citing his religious beliefs, stated he could not take up arms, but he was not a member of a church, and enlistment officers reportedly told him that only members of the 10 registered faiths with the right to perform alternative service could do so, refusing his request for alternative civilian service. On September 15, the Ivano-Frankivsk City Court sentenced Alekseyenko to one year in prison. He appealed the verdict.

During the year, the State Service for Ethnopolicy and Freedom of Conscience (DESS) again reaffirmed its commitment to promoting uniformity and transparency in the provision of administrative services to religious organizations, including the examination of their registration applications, and continued its work to create an electronic register of religious organizations. DESS developed technical specifications and a feasibility study for an electronic platform combining databases and services related to the country’s religious organizations. DESS officials said the system was designed to “significantly enhance transparency and uniformity of policies in the area of religious freedom.”

On December 1, a presidential decree mandated direct subordination of DESS, previously operating as part of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, to the Cabinet of Ministers. According to the decree, DESS was also tasked with ensuring the conduct of “a religious expert examination of the Statute on the Administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for the presence of a church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate, and if necessary, to take the measures provided for by the law.” On December 16, the government appointed Viktor Yelenskyy, a religious scholar, as new DESS head.

The December 1 decree called on the Cabinet of Ministers to introduce legislation “making it impossible” for religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation in accordance with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience and Ukraine’s obligations in connection with joining the Council of Europe” to operate in the country. The President also announced sanctions against senior UOC clergy for activities such as offering to annex their dioceses directly into the Russian Orthodox Church, collaborating with occupying authorities, and publicly supporting Russia’s aggression. Although it often continued to be informally referred to as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (or UOC-MP) through year’s end, in May, church leaders stated it had separated from the ROC. A government-commissioned panel of experts, however, concluded it remained connected and subordinate to the ROC.

Following issuance of the decree, the SBU searched numerous UOC religious sites, based on probable cause, and uncovered what it stated was significant evidence of collaboration and other illegal activities. In all, according to media sources, the government initiated more than 50 criminal investigations involving clergy for collaboration or treason during the year, out of more than 41,000 collaboration investigations nationwide. According to a November 23 Associated Press article, the SBU reported its agents had searched more than 350 church buildings under the authority of the UOC, including the historic Pechersk Lavra monastic complex in Kyiv. In response to the searches, UOC representatives, including Deputy Head of External Church Relations Department Archpriest Mykolay Danylevych, reiterated that as of May, the UOC was no longer Russian and was no longer affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Oleksandr of the OCU supported the searches, stating, “I think it is better there will be searches than some people who help guide enemy missiles.” On December 1, Forum 18 reported that the OCU announced the government had registered a Pechersk Lavra monastery community under the authority of the OCU in addition to the existing UOC-affiliated Pechersk Lavra monastery community.

In a statement shared with CNN in December, the SBU said that while it was not illegal to store Russian propaganda, it was illegal to distribute it, stating, “If such literature is in the library of a diocese or on the shelves of a church shop, it is obvious that it is intended for mass distribution.” According to DESS head Yelenskyy, for more than 30 years, UOC leadership had been “poisoning people with the ideas of the Russian world” (commonly defined as a Russian nationalist concept in which Ukraine is part of a greater Russian nation, under a common church [Moscow Patriarchate] and leader [Vladimir Putin]). Yelenskyy compared the SBU’s raids of UOC sites to actions against Islamic extremism after September11, 2001 and said, “Ukraine is still a safe haven for religious freedom.” Ukrainian and international security experts also stated that the UOC has frequently served as a proxy for the Russian state since the church’s founding in 1990.

Some experts on religious affairs continued to call on the government to abolish the dual registration requirement mandating that congregations apply for both entry into the State Register of Legal Entities database and government registration of their statutes.

News sources reported that the UOC continued to question the legitimacy of the OCU and to allege that the OCU was “stealing” its property. The OCU stated the UOC legally challenged the reregistration of parishes from the UOC to the OCU and manipulated votes on affiliation change by disqualifying pro-OCU participants. On July 15, the OCU issued a statement to emphasize its concern over the “growing number of reports about numerous cases of direct or indirect interference” by officials into the “voluntary decision-making process of Orthodox congregations seeking to leave the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.” According to the OCU, some government officials disrupted meetings of such congregations, interfered with governmental registration of the congregations’ statutes, and “intimidated” active parishioners and clerics by using “instruments of criminal proceedings.” The OCU reported the government took a more neutral stance on the issue toward year’s end.

On August 28, DESS published recommendations for religious congregations and regional governments concerning the law governing changes of affiliation by religious congregations. DESS reminded government officials that the law prohibited them from convening and chairing meetings of religious congregations and voting at such meetings in their official capacity. It also stressed that the majoritarian religious views of community residents “shall not be imposed” on a local religious congregation or used to take possession of the congregation’s properties. The UOC continued to report instances of “unlawful” reregistration by some local governments. The OCU denied these charges.

The news site reported that on September 7, Kyiv SBU Main Directorate Deputy Chief Yuriy Palahnyuk sent a letter to local governments citing the DESS guidance and instructing them to cease organizing or participating in public gatherings of congregants to discuss switching affiliation from the UOC to the OCU. Palahnyuk said the mass gatherings were socially destabilizing and impermissible under martial law. The OCU sent the SBU a protest letter, stating that DESS and Palahnyuk were creating artificial bureaucratic barriers to Orthodox believers’ exercising the right to freely choose their affiliations. The SBU suspended Palahnyuk from official duties, telling media the letters did not reflect its official position and were sent “on his own initiative.”

The Constitutional Court completed its review of a 2020 petition by a group of members of parliament questioning the constitutionality of 2018 amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations requiring foreign-affiliated religious organizations and associations to rename themselves to reflect their affiliation with foreign entities. The amendments would have a direct effect on UOC entities, given the church’s relationship with the ROC. The petition and a 2019 Supreme Court ruling in a separate suit by the UOC Metropolitan Administration against the amendments prevented the government from enforcing the name change requirement for 267 UOC congregations. The congregations were a third party in the lawsuit filed by the UOC Metropolitan Administration. On December 27, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2018 amendments were constitutional. The UOC said the law did not apply to its religious organizations because of its newly declared independence from the ROC. According to the head of the UOC Legal Department, Archpriest Oleksandr Bakhov, since the 2019 law entered into effect, government officials often refused to register routine updates to statutes of UOC congregations, citing UOC noncompliance with the renaming requirement.

On November 2, the Administration of the Kyiv and All-Ukraine Diocese of the Russian Old-Rite Orthodox Church changed its name to the Ancient Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

In August, the government called on Hasidic pilgrims to refrain from visiting the country during the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, due to safety concerns caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion. The oblast military administration increased security measures in the city from September 19 to September 30 during the pilgrimage, citing the “high likelihood of Russian missile strikes, and the terrorist threat aimed at destabilizing interethnic relations and damaging Ukraine’s international image” during the celebration. According to news reports, law enforcement agencies implemented antisabotage and antiterrorism measures, including the deployment of additional personnel to Uman. An estimated 23,000 pilgrims, overwhelmingly from abroad, took part in the pilgrimage.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they resumed in-person missionary activity. From June to December, they documented 12 incidents of interference, including three by private individuals and nine by authorities. They stated they filed no criminal complaints with police, and the majority of incidents involving officials were settled “amicably, through personal visits.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on November 27, municipal officers Vasyl Tymchyshyn and Marian Vovk accused Jehovah’s Witnesses Rolan Stankevych and Marat Kupaiev of the administrative offense of setting up a mobile display of missionary materials at a public place in Lviv. Although the Witnesses stated to the officers that the activity was educational, the officers accused them of encroachment on a public area and “unauthorized installation of a wooden structure.”

According to the UOC as reported in the local press, on April 10, during a liturgy at a local UOC church, government representatives and local UGCC and OCU parishioners entered the building and demanded that UOC priest Illya Uruskyy stop the service. The visitors reportedly “pulled” him from the church, ordered him to close it, and threatened to harm UOC parishioners if they did not join either a local UGCC or OCU congregation. The UOC source stated that law enforcement agencies refused to accept a UOC complaint about the incident. According to the UOC, later the same day, SBU officers came to the priest’s home, put a bag over his head, and took him to their Lviv office. They kept Uruskyy there overnight and interrogated him on April 11. A fire caused major damage to the church in the early hours of April 11, and the SBU representatives reportedly accused him of setting the fire during the night he had spent in detention. Uruskyy rejected the charge. After the interrogation, the officers again put a bag on his head and took him to a bus station, where they released him. According to village mayor Yeva Semkiv, UOC parishioners declined a request by community members to leave the UOC. “The community closed down the church and the fire started during the next night,” said Semkiv.

The RCC called on the government to finalize the transfer of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kyiv to its congregation on February 22. It said the facility required urgent repairs after a September 2021 fire and that foreign donors, who it said were ready to assist, could only disburse funds once ownership was transferred. The Ministry of Culture and Information Policy attributed the delay to martial law and the need to relocate the government-run National House of Organ and Chamber Music, which shares space with the cathedral, to a suitable building.

Small religious groups stated local authorities continued to discriminate when allocating land for religious buildings in Sumy and Mykolayiv Oblasts. UGCC members and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination. UGCC representatives said local authorities in Bila Tserkva were still unwilling to allocate land for a UGCC church at year’s end, a request originally made in 2008.

Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which is responsible for allocating land for cemeteries, had still not acted on the community’s 2017 request for additional free land in or near Kyiv for Islamic burials, which the Muslim community considered its legal right because by law, local authorities may designate cemetery land for the use of a specific religious group. Consequently, some Muslim families in Kyiv reportedly had to bury their relatives in other cities.

All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process for addressing property restitution claims. According to observers, the government made little progress on unresolved restitution issues during the year. Representatives of some organizations said they experienced continuing problems and delays reclaiming property seized by the former Communist regime and said a review of claims often took far longer than the month prescribed by law. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated several factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including the Russian invasion, intercommunity competition for specific properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership.

Muslim community leaders continued to state concern regarding the continuing lack of resolution of a restitution claim involving the site containing the ruins of a historic mosque in Mykolayiv, in the southern part of the country. According to Muslim leaders, the local government was reluctant to resolve the issue. Sources stated that Russia’s temporary control over portions of Mykolayiv Oblast, repeated attacks on the city, and other wartime contingencies likely made progress on the issue difficult or impossible.

Jewish community leaders continued to report illegal construction on the site of a historic Jewish cemetery in Uman, where businesspersons had purchased old houses bordering the cemetery to demolish them and build hotels for Jewish pilgrims. According to news reports, developers reportedly made deals with local government officials to obtain building permits. On September 5, the Uman District Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation of improper execution of official duties by local government officials who failed to prevent unsanctioned construction of six buildings in the protected historical heritage area.

The Jewish community continued to express concern regarding the ongoing operation of the Krakivskyy Market on the grounds of a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. City authorities, Jewish community members, and market kiosk owners agreed to install three memorials to renowned rabbis buried beneath the active market. Construction on the first memorial started in 2021 but was suspended following Russia’s full-scale invasion. Despite a 2020 Ministry of Culture and Information Policy order that a local developer halt construction of a private health clinic, Lviv authorities allowed the developer to complete the project, stating that the renovation of the clinic did not require excavation. According to reports, the developer completed the project during the year and transferred ownership to another party. The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) stated excavation had occurred and that bones were uncovered. The government had taken no action by year’s end to act on the UCSJ’s request for an independent investigation to determine whether the bones were human. The UCSJ also continued to urge the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory commercial building on the cemetery grounds separate from the health clinic construction that had been ordered suspended in 2017. According to local authorities, the commercial building project in question involved reconstruction of an existing building and required no excavation.

Jewish community representatives expressed cautious optimism about the Ternopil local government’s stated intention to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet era.

On September 29, President Zelenskyy honored the memory of victims of the Holocaust massacre at Babyn Yar in 1941. “The world should do everything to prevent similar tragedies and crimes against humanity, which, unfortunately, still happen today, particularly on Ukrainian soil. Any inhumane regimes pose a threat to all humanity. Criminals who cause such tragedies must be punished. So that dictators and tyrants are reluctant to repeat something similar in the future.”

In his address on May 8, the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, President Zelenskyy paid tribute to “all those who defended their homeland and the world from Nazism. We note the Ukrainian people and their contribution to the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition. Explosions, shots, trenches, wounds, famine, bombing, blockades, mass executions, punitive operations, occupation, concentration camps, gas chambers, yellow stars, ghettos, Babyn Yar, Katyn, captivity, forced labor. They died so that each of us knows what these words mean from books, not from our own experience. But it happened differently. This is unfair to them all. But the truth will win. And we will overcome everything!”

In his address to the nation on May 2, President Zelenskyy condemned a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Jews themselves were some of the biggest antisemites: “No one hears objections or excuses from Moscow. There is silence. Hence, they agree with what their Foreign Minister said. After the Russian missile attack at Babyn Yar in Kyiv, after the Menorah damaged by shelling at the site of the mass executions in Drobytsky Yar near Kharkiv, after the deaths of ordinary people who survived the Nazi occupation and Nazi concentration camps from Russian shelling, such an antisemitic thrust by their minister means Russia has forgotten all the lessons of World War II.”

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement calling for a “concerted effort to prevent all manifestations of xenophobia, antisemitism, and intolerance” and pledging that “the commemoration of Holocaust victims on Ukrainian soil will never stop.”

On July 26, the United Jewish Community of Ukraine called on the government to prosecute a former Kyiv City Council member for having promoted antisemitic blood libel accusations against the Jewish community. The United Jewish Community of Ukraine stated that former council member Mykhailo Kovalchuk should face legal action for a post he wrote that invoked the blood libel charge that Jews slaughter non-Jews for their religious rites. Kovalchuk posted that “Satanism is a form of Judaism,” adding that “some orthodox Jews practice ritual murder of people, most often their victims are small children, children of non-Jews (goyim).”

On October 25, President Zelenskyy met with members of the Supervisory Board of the privately funded Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC). He reaffirmed support for the construction of the center. Some Jewish community members and historians said they questioned the motivation of some contributors to the BYHMC, noting some had connections to Russia, and they stressed the need to hold a public debate about the commemoration of victims of Babyn Yar, the Holocaust, the Second World War, and Nazi and Communist regimes prior to creating a memorial at Babyn Yar.

According to observers, government investigations and prosecutions of vandalism against religious sites continued to be generally inconclusive, although the government condemned these incidents and police arrested perpetrators.

According to a December 26 report by the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, unidentified vandals sprayed antisemitic graffiti on the wall of a building in Uzhhorod. Police opened an investigation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported six incidents of vandalism committed against houses of worship during the year. They said the incidents were “devoid of explicit religious bias indicators, but kingdom halls are clearly marked and are known as houses of worship.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 24, unidentified individuals wrote the word “sect,” which carries negative connotation in Ukrainian, on a fence surrounding a kingdom hall in Volodymyr-Volynskyy, Volyn Oblast. A local court ordered police to open an investigation, which they did, adding it to the investigations of three similar acts of vandalism committed against the same kingdom hall in 2020. According to the privately-owned court verdicts database, on January 14, police began to investigate the three 2020 incidents as “hooliganism” following the filing of a complaint of religiously motivated hate crimes. The cases remained pending at year’s end.

Actions of Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

According to religious and media sources, since beginning their full-scale invasion on February 24, Russia’s forces committed numerous and egregious human rights abuses, including attacks on religious institutions, in areas of the country controlled by the Ukrainian government and in areas temporarily controlled by Russia and later liberated by the Ukrainian military.

The research consortium Conflict Observatory identified 506 places of worship or burial sites damaged or destroyed by Russia’s forces between February 24 and December 31, in both occupied and Ukrainian-controlled areas. The Institute for Religious Freedom similarly found that Russia’s forces had “destroyed, damaged, or looted” nearly 500 religious buildings, theological institutions, and sacred sites in Ukraine and had disproportionately attacked evangelical Christians.

According to Imam Timur Beridze, the head of the Muslim community in Luhansk Oblast, in June, Russia’s shelling destroyed a mosque in the town of Severodonetsk while it was under Ukrainian government control, killing civilians who sheltered in the building. Bodies of at least 17 persons charred beyond recognition were found in the rubble after the shelling.

According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, on May 4, Russia bombed the UOC Svyatohirsk Lavra monastery compound in the government-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast, wounding seven internally displaced persons sheltering at the monastery. On June 1, Russia’s artillery struck the monastery, causing serious structural damage to several buildings, killing three monks and a nun and wounding six more. The deceased were buried on June 3, while Russia’s forces continued shelling the monastery. On June 4, Russia’s forces destroyed the All-Saints monastic settlement located in the vicinity of the Svyatohirsk Lavra monastery. In a Telegram social media post on June 1, President Zelenskyy condemned the attacks: “The occupiers know what site they are shelling. They know there are no military targets at the Svyatohirsk Lavra. They know that about 300 lay people, including 60 children, are sheltering there from the fighting.”

On February 26, Russia’s forces detained OCU priest and rescue ship chaplain Vasyl Vyrozub off the coast of Snake Island, in the Black Sea. According to news website, they transferred him to a filtration camp near Shebekino in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, where during the arrival procedure, guards forced him to kneel with his hands behind his head in freezing temperatures for many hours. Upon arrival at the camp, Vyrozub and other prisoners received no food for two days. The guards also beat him with a rifle butt and hurled verbal abuse at him, setting dogs on him and other prisoners to force them to move faster. On March 18, according to Vyrozub, Russian authorities transferred him to a pretrial detention center in Stary Oskol, Belgorod Oblast, where local guards regularly beat the priest and set dogs on him. The detention center administration kept him naked for four days in an unheated punishment cell and reportedly subjected the priest to daily torture and interrogations. After failing to force him to confess to what he said were fake espionage charges, prison administrators placed him in 15 days of solitary confinement, with no toilet facilities. Russia’s forces released Vyrozub on May 6.

On March 1, a Russian missile struck Kyiv near the site of the Babyn Yar Holocaust massacre, killing five passersby. The blast damaged a museum building at the site undergoing reconstruction and burned and uprooted trees in the area. The strike sparked vocal condemnation in and outside Ukraine. “What is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least five killed. History repeating,” tweeted President Zelenskyy. The head of the supervisory board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, Natan Sharansky, said in a public statement, “Putin’s decision to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent. It is symbolic that he starts attacking Kyiv by bombing the site of Babyn Yar, the biggest of Nazi massacres.”

According to the RCC, Russia’s forces vandalized and looted the theological seminary in Vorzel, Kyiv Oblast, during their February-April occupation of the area. Russian military personnel used a seminary chapel as a toilet and looted liturgical items, air conditioners, washing machines, computers, routers, kitchen utensils, and personal belongings of seminary staff and students.

On October 26, media outlets reported Russian shelling of a cemetery in Bakhmut, in the Ukrainian government-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast. Aerial footage showed a large crater with human remains and tombstones scattered around the burial area.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to numerous sources, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated preexisting tensions between the OCU and UOC during the year.

The National Minorities Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported a decrease in antisemitic violence, with one suspected case reported during the year compared with three cases in 2021.  As of December, the NMRMG recorded five cases of antisemitic vandalism, compared with 13 incidents during the same period in 2021.

According to the Jewish community, in April, police arrested a man they suspected of having stabbed Igor Perelman three times on March 31.  Perelman is the director of the Jewish Community of the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, in the western part of the country, where many persons had fled to escape Russian attacks in the eastern part of the country.  After being held for three months, the suspect was reportedly released on bail.  Police completed an investigation and forwarded the case to court.  The court hearing was scheduled to begin in 2023.

On January 31, the United Jewish Community of Ukraine (UJCU) published video footage showing an unknown individual destroying a Holocaust monument in Lysychansk with a sledgehammer.  Both the incident, which occurred in December 2021, and the publication of the video occurred before Russia’s full-scale invasion, when the area was still under government control.  Before the video was made public, local authorities attributed the damage to bad weather.  On January 19, the memorial was destroyed again after an initial restoration.  Police opened an investigation.  On January 27, local government leaders and Jewish community representatives held a Holocaust commemoration event near the monument following its second restoration.  Jewish community members thanked the regional government for its support with the restoration.

Before the full-scale invasion, New Lines Magazine reported that Jewish emigration had slowed to 2,000 to 3,000 persons per year.  According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, between January 1 and December 1, 14,680 individuals emigrated to Israel.  According to a March 10 Washington Post article, a consortium of Jewish organizations helped 3,000 individuals, mostly women, children, and elderly who identified as Jewish, to flee to Moldova, and another 3,000 to Poland, Hungary, and Romania.

The ROC and the UOC continued to publicly describe the OCU as a “schismatic” group, even though the OCU was granted a Tomos (decree) of Autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2019.  The ROC continued to urge Orthodox churches around the world not to recognize the OCU.

On May 27, the UOC held a church council, which took a number of decisions related to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  In addition to condemning war in general and appealing for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, the council’s statement expressed disagreement with the proinvasion stance of Patriarch Kirill.  The statement also announced modifications to church statutes “which testify to the complete independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”  In response, Archbishop Yevstratiy of Chernihiv, the OCU spokesman, criticized the UOC statement as “light rain from a big cloud,” saying that the statement referred to independence and autonomy rather than autocephaly, and that the church was still taking direction from the ROC.  Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, a Ukrainian theologian and professor of Ecclesiology, International Relations, and Ecumenism at University College Stockholm, said however, that the May 27 decision signaled “real and tectonic change” of the UOC’s course “away from Moscow and toward UOC independence.”  He said the ROC was making every effort to reverse that change.

UOC representatives often contested parish re-registrations, stating some local government officials breached the law by allowing individuals unaffiliated with the UOC to vote in meetings to change the affiliation of local parishes to the OCU.  According to the UOC, some local authorities transferred parish affiliations against the will of parishioners.  The UOC also said officials allowed OCU supporters to take possession of disputed facilities before the change of affiliation was officially registered.

OCU representatives accused the UOC of contesting legitimate changes of parish affiliation and reported that since 2019, the UOC had initiated more than 100 lawsuits against oblast government decisions to register UOC congregations that joined the OCU.  They said the suits were part of the UOC’s strategy to discourage OCU followers from joining the church.  According to the OCU, the UOC often manipulated affiliation votes, for example by falsely describing eligible voters at such congregational meetings as unaffiliated with the parish, saying they rarely or never participated in religious services.  The lawsuits remained unresolved through year’s end.

In a January 6 interview with RBK Ukraine news agency, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy estimated that approximately 700 UOC parishes had become part of the OCU since its inception in 2018.  In an October 12 interview with the news website, he said approximately 700 additional UOC parishes had joined the OCU since February 24.

According to Channel 5, on August 21, most residents of Tarasivka village, Kyiv Oblast, voted to affiliate their local UOC parish with the OCU.  The UOC described the vote as unlawful because the gathering had reportedly been organized by a local government official rather than the congregation, and not all voters were its members.  The UOC stated that three hundred parishioners opposed the change of affiliation.  The OCU and local government rejected the claim, saying the overwhelming majority of parishioners were eager to join the OCU.  The UOC stated that on December 7, a group of OCU members, accompanied by masked members of a territorial defense unit and led by local Mayor Oleksandr Zarubin, had tried to take possession of the church building and prevent UOC members from entering it.  Some OCU supporters reportedly used force against their opponents.  OCU representatives denied the charge and accused their UOC opponents of using force and hampering their legitimate access to the church.

UOC video footage showed that, on April 25, an unidentified man carrying an assault rifle came to the UOC St. Volodymyr’s Church in Lviv, chanting “Death to Moskals” (a derogatory reference to Russians).  He threatened that the church would soon be demolished.  According to the UOC, police representatives were near the church during the incident but did not intervene.  On May 1, a group of young men disrupted a liturgy at the church.  According to UOC video footage of the incident, they played loud music in front of the building and aggressively demanded that parish members leave the Moscow Patriarchate.  The men left the church after police arrived.  On May 8, unidentified persons sealed the church entrance with spray foam to prevent worshipers from entering the building.  The vandals also spraypainted “Devils of the FSB [the Russian security service]” and “Putin’s home” on the church walls.  On June 20, the church was seriously damaged by fire.  The UOC stated that “people with radical views” had set fire to the building.  According to the OCU and oblast authorities, on July 6, members of its congregation joined the OCU.  The UOC denied the report, saying the oblast government had registered the parish as part of the OCU after receiving a “forged” application from a representative of a neighboring OCU congregation and that the parish did not change its affiliation.

On March 8, masked gunmen took control of UOC Holy Trinity Monastery on Dukonya mountain in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, in the western part of the country.  They briefly detained the monastery’s abbot and a novice.

On May 24, OCU Primate Metropolitan Epiphaniy said, “We do not support violence against the clergy, laity, or property of the Moscow Patriarchate solely based on their jurisdictional affiliation.  At the same time, if someone among followers of that religious association is guilty of collaboration with the aggressor and serving the enemy’s interests, they should be brought to justice for specific offenses.”

According to media outlets, on April 3, UOC opponents forced a UOC congregation in Dolyna, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, to close its church.  The local government supported the closure and hosted what were termed “negotiations” between the activists and parish priest.  The priest accepted the demand.  Before the closure, the local authorities searched the church and parish vehicles.  According to the Dolyna city council, “Residents who are not indifferent lost their patience.  They consider the UOC to be an enemy because it had been under the cultural influence of the Russian Orthodoxy for a long time, and its clergy had an equivocal opinion about patriotic sentiment in Ukraine.”

On December 6, Lviv’s Lychakivsky District Court found Volodymyr Marmash guilty of hate speech against the OCU and fined him 5,100 hryvnas ($140).  In May 2021, Marmash posted derogatory statements about the OCU on his Facebook page.  He pleaded guilty.

According to the news website in September, the Volodymyrets District Court handed down a two-year suspended prison sentence to a UOC member who used a pitchfork to break the arm of an OCU supporter during a skirmish between residents in Zabolottya village, Rivne Oblast, in the western part of the country, in 2019.  The individual pled guilty.  The court also ordered her to pay 11,500 hryvnas ($310) to the victim.  The skirmish was the result of an ongoing church ownership dispute that escalated following the oblast government’s decision to reregister the local Church of St. John, formerly owned by the UOC, as OCU property.

An ownership dispute between UOC and OCU members in Zadubrivka village in Chernivtsi Oblast concerning St Michael’s the Archangel Church continued in the courts.  In 2021, the Zastavna District Court rejected a UOC petition to revoke the registration of a newly created OCU parish in Zadubrivka and to transfer ownership of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel from the UOC to the OCU.  The case remained pending at the Kyiv Economic Court at year’s end.

There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments, Holocaust memorials, synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ kingdom halls.

The interfaith organization AUCCRO continued to meet to promote religious diversity and national unity in the face of Russia’s aggression and to discuss issues affecting the country, such as the religious situation in its temporarily occupied territories.  The organization posted multiple statements on its website condemning Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, requesting humanitarian corridors to free citizens trapped by Russia’s forces, and calling for temporary ceasefires, and peace.  On February 16, in response to “anxiety and uncertainty,” given the predictions of Russia’s attacks, members of AUCCRO prayed for peace at Saint Sophia, “one of the most famous symbols of Ukraine.”  AUCCRO represents more than 90 percent of all religious groups in the country, including the OCU, UOC, UGCC, RCC, All-Ukraine Baptist Union, Ukrainian Church of Evangelical Pentecostal Christians, Ukrainian Union Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church, Ukrainian Lutheran Church, Ukrainian Evangelical Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Ukrainian Diocese, Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian Bible Society, and the Trans-Carpathian Reformed Church.  The council rotates its chairmanship.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby visited Ukraine from November 30-December 2 with the stated purpose of showing solidarity with the people and churches of Ukraine.  He met with leaders of Ukraine’s churches and with internally displaced persons and observed the work of churches and charities providing support to them.

Leaders of evangelical churches from Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and the World Evangelical Alliance met on June 28 in Lviv to discuss support for those affected by the war.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials, including the Ambassador and Chargé d’Affaires, met with officials of the Office of the President, Ministries of Culture and Information Policy, Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, DESS, political parties, and local officials to engage on issues of religious freedom.  They emphasized the importance of the fair and transparent treatment of religious groups, the preservation of religious heritage sites, government protection for the free exercise of religion, support for religious minorities, and combating antisemitism.

On March 3, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom joined his counterparts from Australia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom to “condemn Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine” and to “urge the Kremlin and Russia’s military to cease their illegal invasion and respect the safety of the civilian population of Ukraine, including all religious communities, and to respect the individually held human right to freedom of religion or belief at all times.”

On September 29, the anniversary of the Holocaust massacre in Babyn Yar, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and her counterparts from Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, and the United Kingdom stated on behalf of their governments, “We can never let the memories of those victims and all who were murdered in the Holocaust be dishonored, erased, or cynically misused for political purposes.  For 45 years after the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union censored documentation of the Holocaust, including accurate research and records of the massacre of Jews at Babyn Yar.  Thus, it is particularly horrifying that Vladimir Putin is trying to justify his unprovoked war against Ukraine by distorting and misappropriating Holocaust history.”

In remarks to the Jewish Federations of North America on March 2, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism said, “Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion now may include destruction to religious and cultural sites in Ukraine.  We are appalled by reports that a Russian missile has struck near the hallowed Holocaust memorial site of Babyn Yar.”  He dismissed Russia’s attempts to accuse Ukraine of neo-Nazism and fascism as a pretext for its military aggression and “cover for its own provocations and human rights abuses.”  “We condemn Putin’s continued exploitation of the history and suffering of the Holocaust and World War II for his coldblooded ends,” stated the official.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in the 81st anniversary commemorations of the 1941 Babyn Yar massacre and in other Holocaust commemoration events to honor the victims and the Righteous Among Nations, underscoring the importance of preserving the memory of that tragedy and encouraging efforts to combat antisemitism.

The embassy continued to engage with Jewish religious leaders, organizations, and local authorities to discuss issues of antisemitism, promote Holocaust memorial efforts, and ensure the preservation of historic religious sites, including ancient Jewish cemeteries in Lviv and Uman.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in Holocaust commemorations, during which they encouraged efforts to combat antisemitism and preserve cultural heritage.

The embassy continued to engage with leaders of AUCCRO, which represents most religious groups in the country, to discuss the status of religious freedom in the country and religious persecution in the Russia-occupied territories.  The meetings were occasions for Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders to express their concerns regarding the state of religious freedom in the country and the status of religion in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, and to hear views on how the United States could further help promote religious freedom.

Embassy officials engaged with representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss their treatment in the country.

The embassy continued to use social media to underscore U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities.  It regularly highlighted religious holidays and responded to the systematic mistreatment of religious minorities in Russia-occupied areas.

2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Ukraine
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